The Coast News Group
Nasturtium is a good full sun option. Stock photo
ColumnsJano's Garden

The art of the vertical garden

Recently, I had the pleasure of teaching a Seed Starting Workshop, sponsored by the Oceanside Library as part of its Community Health and Well-Being initiative. Trista Tabanico, adult services librarian, organized the class, which was held at the Country Club Senior Center.

One of the students asked if there is a method for growing flowers or vegetables in a vertical fashion since she had a patio with little square footage. She shared with our group her recent purchase of a vertical container garden at the local Oceanside dollar store!

Over the years, I have designed vertical gardens for many clients and fellow gardeners, and the challenge has always been to use available surfaces within a small space. 

Even if your balcony or patio offers a limited amount of square footage, look around your space and see if you can use railings, walls and ceilings. 


Two local garden companies have excellent resources for choosing the right plant material for your small balcony or patio. They provide comprehensive planting information on their websites. The San Diego Seed Company offers over 50 vegetable and flower seeds grown specifically for the San Diego climate, with seed selection, videos and planting guide at 

Their farm is in Spring Valley, and it is suggested to call (858) 736-6872 for hours and directions to their location. This company offers seeds with which to start your garden, but not plant material. 

Grangetto’s Farm & Garden Supply, with four locations including Encinitas, has compiled a list, “Top Ten Flowers to Grow in San Diego,” at, with detailed planting instructions for each plant. The Encinitas location is at 189 S. Rancho Santa Fe, in Encinitas, or call (760) 944-5777. 

The garden center features not only annuals and perennials for the vertical garden, but also trees, shrubs and farm supplies. The staff is available to help you find the right plant for the right spot in your garden.


When selecting plants, it is always advisable to calculate the amount of sun your small patio or balcony gets. Make a point of sitting outside in the early morning, at high noon and late afternoon to make note of how the sun travels in your space.

Is it always hot and sunny with no barriers to the light as it shines over your plants? Is there an overhang, a roof or umbrella shading your space that is causing your garden to have less light?

Full sun — Many of the old-time favorites are perfect for full sun sites but must be watered on a daily basis. Annual flowers that do well in hanging baskets include ivy geraniums, cascading petunias, white bacopa and sweet alyssum.

 One of my favorite annuals that, once planted, never seem to disappear is the nasturtium. This vibrantly colored orange, yellow and red beauty can be trained to grow up a vertical support or cascade over the edge of a hanging basket. Just be cautious of the seedpods that fall and can become somewhat invasive in a border area. 

Two other unusual climbing annuals can brighten your vertical design are mandevilla and black-eyed Susan vine. Both will scoot up any pole or trellis in no time and act as a backdrop for your hanging baskets.

Shade — If your patio or balcony has a shaded area, try plants in large containers on the ground such as English ivy, fibrous begonia, hosta and rosemary. The plants on the ground in containers will “ground” the vertical elements, so that your garden will have a cohesive appearance.

 Try a single fern on the ground in a ceramic container, for an explosion of green and frilly texture.


According to the endless supply of information available from Sunset magazine, “A simple baker’s rack can increase planting space by many times its small footprint…There’s room for a birdhouse, a collection of culinary herbs and edible flowers including sage, thyme, rosemary and nasturtium.” 

Search yard sales, local Nextdoor websites and second-hand shops for any object that can hold soil, plants and water! Many of the most eclectic and highly successful small gardens use old watering cans, wrought iron shelves and wicker baskets that can be place on shelves or hang from heavy hooks placed in the wall or ceiling. 


Taking the advice of the experts at Sunset, from the 2004 publication “Container Gardening”: “Vines grown in containers will scramble up trellises and posts as lustily as their in-ground relatives. What’s more, rampant growers and self-seeders such as morning glory, anemone clematis, and some honeysuckle are easier to keep within bounds when their roots are in pots.” 

Reprints of decades of Sunset Magazine articles are available on their website, 

So, fellow gardeners enjoy your small spaces and send us your ideas about how you have developed your own garden. 

And take advantage of the upcoming free gardening classes and the free seed library at the Oceanside Library and its branches. Call (760) 435-5600 for further details and check out their website at

Jano Nightingale is a Master Gardener and horticulturist who teaches gardening classes in North County and the Carlsbad Senior Center Community Garden. For further information regarding her classes contact her at [email protected]

Leave a Comment